Assessing tobacco beliefs among youth using item response theory models.
Successful intervention research programs to prevent adolescent smoking require well-chosen, psychometrically sound instruments for assessing smoking prevalence and attitudes. Twelve thousand eight hundred and ten adolescents were surveyed about their smoking beliefs as part of the Teenage Attitudes and Practices Survey project, a prospective cohort study of predictors of smoking initiation among US adolescents. Item response theory (IRT) methods are used to frame a discussion of questions that a researcher might ask when selecting an optimal item set. IRT methods are especially useful for choosing items during instrument development, trait scoring, evaluating item functioning across groups, and creating optimal item subsets for use in specialized applications such as computerized adaptive testing. Data analytic steps for IRT modeling are reviewed for evaluating item quality and differential item functioning across subgroups of gender, age, and smoking status. Implications and challenges in the use of these methods for tobacco onset research and for assessing the developmental trajectories of smoking among youth are discussed.
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